(TOPLINE: After a 2 1/2-hour meeting, the citywide Design Commission gave the project the first of two approvals it must confer before its “alley vacation” can be approved)
1:43 PM: We’re at City Hall for the Seattle Design Commission‘s second review of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way megaproject – and there’s even a bigger crowd than there was for the 1st review in March. The Design Commission does not review the entire project – their scope is to decide if it has “urban design merit” and “public benefits” worthy of city approval for the “alley vacation” that is part of the project. The presentation is starting with architect Bill Fuller recapping some of the key points of the 372-apartment, 60,000-square-feet-of-retail, 70-foot-high project. Key commission concerns the first time included how the “mid-block connector” through the two-building project would be configured. Fuller also notes that the plan for the “iconic corner” at Fauntleroy/Alaska is “under construction” since there was so much feedback to incorporate from the Southwest Design Review Board.
1:55 PM: Fuller is showing the newest version of the mid-block connector, which will incorporate more of a “city sidewalk” design. The west side of it will be narrower, so there’s more room for planters. That side also will include bicycle parking. There’ll be a six-inch-high concrete curb along the sidewalk side of the mid-block connector for people walking between the west and east sides (Fauntleroy and 40th SW). Next to the Whole Foods loading dock, which is enclosed and behind doors, there’ll be a raised crosswalk that will be “one more speed bump” as Fuller put it. There remains a drive-through for the tenant-not-yet-announced drug store, and Fuller is explaining why that’s needed – using the example of a parent driving up with a screaming, sick child in the car, needing to pick up some medication, wanting a “more private” transaction with the pharmacy. The rendering includes the re-created mural from the existing site, on the side of the drugstore, on the lane leading up to the drive-through, as Fuller shows a more detailed look on how the drive-through’s traffic will work.
He says there’s no way that cars can or would drive fast at that spot.
*EDITOR’S NOTE, POST-MEETING – THE REST OF OUR AS-IT-HAPPENED NOTES FROM THE MEETING ARE AFTER THE JUMP*
2:05 PM: Dan Albert from Weisman Design Group, the landscape-design firm, is now discussing what he calls “the human scale” of the project. He says the “parks and plazas” along the project – at five of its corners – are important features. He also has mentioned something Fuller brought up – a new way to cross SW Alaska right at Fauntleroy, where there is no crossing now. The future Spruce project (“The Hole”) has been mentioned several times, though that’s owned by another company and there’s no hard-and-fast information right now about how soon work will start. Albert says the site has a “great potential for green stormwater infrastructure” such as bioswales/raingardens.
2:12 PM: Now, Albert details the character of the five “plaza” areas – except for the “iconic corner,” for which he says, they’re looking at “what it wants to be.” Some of what he’s showing: At Alaska and 40th, there are two areas meant for public use, one closer to the street with a wayfinding kiosk and some interpretive signage and benches, the other closer to the building, near the Whole Foods entry, but Albert says the entry and plazas will be separated so it’s clear which is which. Further south on 40th, some boulders might “create a more naturalistic” environment. That side will include raingardens as well as public-plaza space. A plant-covered “living wall” is being envisioned along part of the connector. Along Fauntleroy, there’s another plaza envisioned as an “oasis” along “600 feet of frontage.” Then at the southeast corner – Fauntleroy and Edmunds – some covered bike parking, a bench, and a retail area tucked away from the public usage area.
2:21 PM: Engineering reps from KPFF are talking about utility improvements that they joke “aren’t as sexy as the architectural features” but do represent major improvements. Among them: Undergrounding, a new switch for Seattle City Light, reduction in stormwater runoff.
They also note that they’ve been meeting frequently with SDOT “working through an abundance of issues,” including the “channelization issues” on the site – loading, separating trucks and other vehicles – and say they’ve achieved agreement on most of the issues and are now “working on minor design details.” Beverly Barnett, who is the SDOT point person on alley vacations, confirms this, reminding the commission that she had expressed concern over the design at the last meeting, and saying the meetings they’ve been having are more like “workshops.” She adds, “We do believe this proposal is fundamentally sound.”
2:30 PM: The board also is hearing from Bruce Rips, city planner on the project, who’s talking about the Southwest Design Review Board concerns shared at that group’s most recent review. Now, it’s public comment time, and at least five people plan to speak. Jeffrey Tosh from the Alki Masonic Temple, neighbor to the site, goes first; he says none of the drawings reflect the “grade change on the north south alley” and he is worried about trucks navigating that. He also is wondering if the estimated two-trucks-a-day delivery schedule for Whole Foods is accurate, in addition to other truck traffic for the drugstore and apartment move-ins/move-outs. He says their parking-lot traffic doesn’t seem to be addressed either. He also is still waiting for traffic-impact studies.
Next, Deb Barker, a former Design Review Board chair and veteran urban planner, who makes it clear that she is here as a private citizen, says “I do know big-box when I see it.” She says she’s concerned, still, about the safety of the mid-block connector, in reference to truck deliveries and the cars using the 598-space parking garage, with “five opportunities for pedestrians and vehicles to interact in the tunnel-like space.” She thinks the alley could be “back of the house, service” if some of the access functions were moved up to SW Alaska; “it’s not right” that the connector is set up the way it is only to benefit “a big-box store.” The Alaska crossing is “deeply flawed,” she notes, and she adds that the undergrounding is required.
Sharonn Meeks from the nearby Fairmount neighborhood is next. She says the mid-block connector is a “home run” because it has created “a gateway for pedestrians” that also includes a destination – the new park across 40th SW. The building’s size and scope still suggests a need for someplace to drop off seniors and disabled people, she says. She concludes by showing photos of the site.
Then, a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers‘ union, which again has a significant presence of golden-shirted/jacketed members. He says the design is not pedestrian-oriented as it should be. He also takes issue with the description of the spaces near entries as “plazas.” He also is concerned about the shadowing of the connector and the traffic for the drive-through window.
A person identifying herself as living in a condo building southeast of the project site, says, “I like this project” and is “thrilled to see the pedestrian improvements” as someone who “will never drive (to it).”
Another West Seattle resident says, “I really like the changes you guys have made. I am looking for something that’s pedestrian-friendly. … I’m excited about having it in my neighborhood.”
Josh Sutton from the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor) notes that he was on the Triangle Advisory Group and says this is the first project to meet the guidelines they came up with, and that it meets some of the goals, including breaking up that block. He thinks the development team “worked really hard to get this right” and expresses appreciation for the drug-store drive-up “as the son of a 90-year-old dad.”
A Whole Foods rep speaks next – first time we recall seeing one at one of this project’s reviews. He says they like the “amenities” on the site. “We’re looking forward to see it develop … and thank you for this process, I think it’s great.”
Then another resident who appreciates the drugstore drive-up. “You can get a burger at 10 o’clock at night,” so why not something like this with “accretive community benefit”? he asks. He expresses appreciation for the separation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the connector.
And a Whole Foods employee says “it looks like a great project” that she hopes to potentially work at, especially because of the “green spaces.”
Then another UFCW rep, who reiterates that they believe the truck traffic will be far more than represented, citing a study of Seattle grocery-store-truck traffic and saying that “these kind of specialty stores” actually have more traffic. A woman next to him says she sat outside the Roosevelt Whole Foods store and counted 57 trucks in a day: “It’s not safe for people when you have that much traffic coming in and out of the store.”
2:54 PM: Commissioners’ clarifying questions, now. They’re starting by asking architect Fuller to describe all the entrances into the site. Whole Foods’ entrance is basically at Alaska/40th, though you also will be able to enter from Fauntleroy/Alaska. There also are residential entrances midblock on 40th and at Fauntleroy/Edmunds.
Parking is revisited; besides the underground parking – currently described as 500 spaces – there are three spaces on the south side of the project for the leasing offices’ visitors, and some street parking along Fauntleroy for the small shops (the project is pulling back from the property line to make sure there’s room for that).
At this point, Lance Sherwood from Weingarten – one of the developers – says that they’ve been meeting with Masonic Temple reps to address the concerns that have been brought up about grade, access, and how all this relates to the Temple’s parking lot.
Site access comes up next. On 40th, it would be all directions; at the Fauntleroy entrance, you’ll be able to make a left turn in but not out, while right turns in/out will be allowed; on Edmunds, all directions. The site will generate about 500 trips in the “PM peak hours,” more than two-thirds of them “new.”
3:18 PM: They’re still asking followup questions. Now – about the truck traffic. The project team says 30 or so smaller trucks, 3 big trucks for the grocery and drug stores. That’s quick, and now they are getting ready to go through their recommendations and vote. Regarding “light and air,” commissioners say this proposal is better than what might happen if the current alley were kept and a standard building put up on this site.
Concerns are now voiced about the fact the 40th SW frontage is more a “back” of the building rather than a front. “I’m struggling with this project,” says one commissioner. “To one degree, they’re just moving the alley south, and from a massing standpoint, I don’t really see that much is changing.” Another commissioner disagrees, saying the project team seems to have gone “above and beyond” to work out the connector.
Other doubts surface, such as, where’s the proof that the developer is working with its neighbors (the Masons)? (Though the commissioner who brings that up says she’ll probably be OK with advancing the project from this stage, since it’ll have to come back to the SDC at least once more, for “public benefit” approval.)
Another commissioner says she thinks the project’s street level is “activated” enough with the retail on multiple sides, plus the park across 40th SW. And yet another wonders how people will be moving in and out of the apartments, especially if they don’t have a big moving truck. She’s told that moving with smaller vehicles like pickups and trucks will be possible through the parking garage. Other vehicle-movement concerns are brought up.
3:47 PM: Still discussing – this has gone over the two-hour window allotted for it, though there’s no official agenda item after it. One commissioner says the plazas don’t feel “special” yet. Another one says she finds the plans for 40th SW frontage “exciting” and wishes it could extend all the way down the Masons’ end of the block.
4:00 PM: And they’re now summarizing. Again, this is the first of two approvals the Design Commission will have to give for the 6,600-square-feet “alley vacation,” with an 11,000-square-foot private alley (the connector) to become part of the project. The commission’s official findings say the replacement will be “better” than required; when the project comes back for the next phase, they want to see how the parking and power issues for the Masons will be addressed, as well as how the project will connect to the park across the street.
The vote is 5 in favor of the project passing “urban design merit,” 3 against. The “no” voters get a chance to speak. Two are very concerned about the vehicle traffic. The third says there were so many concerns voiced for the project, he feels uncomfortable allowing the project to advance to the next stage and waiting to see them addressed in the “public benefit” phase. But advance it does; we’ll let you know when the next meeting’s date is set.
WHAT’S NEXT: Along with at least one more trip to the Design Commission, this project also has at least one more review ahead with the Southwest Design Review Board – no date set yet. Even before these parts of the process, the development team had told us they didn’t expect construction to start on the site until sometime next year.